How to Set a Writing Goal That Actually Works

How to set writing goals

No matter what type of writer you are, setting a writing goal will help you earn more money or build authority as a writer or non-fiction author.

In this article, I will explain the different types of writing goals you can set and how you can track your goals.

Recently, I came across a piece of advice from David Brooks. He’s an American writer for the New York Times and other publications, who said,

“Great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants.”

Yes, Mr Brooks! There’s a time for exploring interesting ideas, but you also need to quantify what success for your writing looks like.

Be honest with yourself.

Ask: Is my writing helping me build authority?

Or

When will I finish writing a book I started months ago?

So, what are the types of writing goals can you set to think like an accountant without getting bored out of your mind?

Let’s face it, we’re more interested in words than numbers.

Use the SMARTER Goal Framework

Become a Writer Today book
The Become a Writer Today compilation

Remember, to set SMARTER goals.

SMARTER is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound
  • One you can Evaluate
  • Rewarding

So, what does this type of goal look like in practice?

Well, last year I set a SMARTER goal:

“I will self-publish a compilation of my writing books by April 2018.”

That writing goal is specific because I was clear about what I planned to do. That goal was measurable because I’d set a date of April 2018.

It was achievable because I’d already written these books. I just needed to re-edit them as one book and self-publish it. The goal was time bound, hence the April 2018 deadline.

In other words, I didn’t want the writing goal to drag on towards the end of the year. I was also able to evaluate my progress towards this goal each week.

Finally, the goal was rewarding because I knew it would help me connect with more writers on Amazon, publish another book and increase my earnings as a non-fiction author.

But enough about me.

Let’s cover SMARTER writing goals you can set for yourself.

By Word Count

An ideal daily word count is the easiest goal to set.

Just keep a little notepad next to where you’re writing. When you’re finished writing for the day, record the date and your word count for that particular session.

You can also log your progress in a spreadsheet (accountants beware!). At the end of the week or month, total up your word count for that period. Then, try and beat this word count next time. I do love a challenge, don’t you?

Alternatively, if you’re working on long-form projects, Scrivener will let you set a word count goal for a writing session. Then you can track your progress each time you open Scrivener.

But, how many words represent a good writing goal?

If you’re a new writer, set a goal for 200 or 300 words per session or day, as these will quickly stack on top of each other.

On the other hand, if you’re feeling more confident or have a writing routine that works, set yourself a writing goal of producing 1,000 or 2,000-words each day.

If you dictate or use speech-to-text software (you should!), increase that daily word count goal even more.

So, goal-oriented writing depends on your latest project and your daily routine.

By Project

Next up: projects.

If I’m working on a book, I set a writing goal by breaking a large project down into small milestones that I can reach one-by-one.

Milestone one: By the end of November I will complete the outline of of my non-fiction book.

Milestone two: By the end of December, I will write the first draft (no turkey for me).

Milestone two: By the end of January, I will edit the first draft.

Milestone three: By the end of February, I will send the book to an editor.

And so on.

If you’re working on something smaller, your project could involve producing a series of articles for your editor by a particular deadline.

Or if you’re a blogger, a writing goal like this could mean writing a series of emails that subscribers to your email list receive after they opt-in.

In other words, a writing goal oriented around a project has a beginning, a messy middle, and an end.

By Deadline

Ah, deadlines, the frenemy of writers everywhere.

I’ve worked on and off as a freelance writer over the years.

Typically, an editor says, “I need a 1,000-word article about the latest productivity apps by July 31.”

or

“Send me a 600-word article by the end of the week about the weird habits of entrepreneurs.”

The topics vary, but my approach to deadlines is consistent.

I put the deadline into Google Calendar and work towards meeting that deadline or finishing the writing project a day or two in advance.

I use the editor’s deadline as a goal rather than something to fear.

Fun fact: I used to wait until the last minute before working on my deadline-oriented projects. Then I missed a few deadlines (look, there’s one!) and almost got fired.

By Earnings

OK, money.

This writing goal is for the more advanced among you. There’s nothing wrong with writing for money, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

No one criticises a doctor for seeing patients or a carpenter who hangs shelves for a fee.

You might want to earn $500 a month from a book you’re self-publishing. Or perhaps you want to increase your freelance writing income by 10%.

Those are pretty achievable goals. Research your niche. Find out what self-published books like yours earn. Explore how you can increase your output of articles.

Then, track your progress towards this goal and your earnings. Ideally, you’ll need to focus on what drives dollars into your bank account and avoid activities that don’t (that usually means cutting back on social media).

By Publication

Perhaps you’re an expert in your field and want to share your knowledge. Or maybe you want to build authority through your writing.

A top publication accepting your writing is a great way to do this.

I set a writing goal at the start of 2018 to be published by a periodical and  I like to read Entrepreneur, Mashable and Forbes. I also wanted to write a book about focus and test my ideas in advance with the right audience.

So I studied the styles of writers for these publications, and I figured out who the editors are (Google and LinkedIn are your friends!).

This process helped me come up with some interesting ideas I was able to pitch to the editor of Forbes and start writing for them.

Now you might not be interested in those topics, but consider what you read and if they accept guest writers. Setting a publication goal will help you achieve it.

How Often I Set Writing Goals

Typically, I set three to six goals that I work on at any one time. One to two of these are writing goals and usually revolve around a book or large writing project rather than a single article.

I write these goals in Evernote. As part of a weekly review, I look at the goals and ask myself,

“What have I done during the previous week towards achieving this goal? What will I do during the coming week to advance this goal?”

Set a Writing Goal Today

If you’re interested in learning more about productivity or writing, check out Getting Things Done by David Allen, and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Both books address goal setting and other topics that will help you accomplish more.

Although they’re not specifically about writing, they will help you balance writing with other projects.

If all this talk about setting writing goals by project, revenue or publication sounds over the top, use what works and discard the rest!

In short, remember what a good writing goal? It’s simply something that helps you achieve what you want with your stories, articles or books. Start with something simple like reaching for a daily word count.

That writing goal alone will help you ramp up your output and achieve what you want.

Set writing goals that work

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2 thoughts on “How to Set a Writing Goal That Actually Works”

  1. Hi, Bryan, thank you for all your hard work in supporting of other authors. I wanted to ask for your advice too, hope it’s ok.
    I’ve been writing fanfics for a long time, and I’m feeling stuck both because I use my talent for something rather small and not so important, and also because I can’t find my own voice anymore. I got used to write about worlds and characters created by someone else, that I’m in a loss now. I feel the urge to write my own fictional stories, but I don’t have any specific ideas and characters to write about. I was hoping that you might have an advise for me. Thank you again,
    Elena

    1. Hi Elena,
      I faced the same problem a few years ago. Then I met Robert McKee (check out his book story). He told me to write what you love to read. I realised then that I read non-fiction and should stop trying to write thrillers.

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